In March I received about 25 e-mails from readers, all very interested in knowing where they could find a wine I had recommended. It was the 2004 Altano, a Portuguese red from the Douro region. This dry wine, made from the same grape varieties used to make sweet succulent Port wine, is just delicious and a bargain to boot.
I replied to each e-mail and asked that they tell me how they made out in tracking it down. As a writer I am always wary of the fact that just because I like something, it won't automatically be on your local retailer's shelf. I know this is often the case, but I learned something rather disconcerting from my reader exchange.
Some stores had it and some simply said that they hadn't heard of it. There was little volunteering to try and find it for the inquisitive consumer. Knowing very well that 75 cases were available in our market, I tried to allay the fears of my letter writers by arming them with all the information necessary to "score" this desired wine. I told them that this wine was distributed locally by Country Vintner (a wholesaler located in Durham County). Surely by supplying this information to any shop that has a person working the wine aisle—be it wine shop, gourmet store or regular grocery—this would provide the necessary information, and the impetus, to order it for the client.
How wrong I was! Some stores showed no interest in helping the consumer and some were even rude enough to say that they would not do it. I only retired from working in retail in 1997, and in all my years in the business I never turned down a request for a special order. This ranged from a $4 bottle of Real Sangria to a $200 bottle of Australian Grange Hermitage. The advantages of this attitude seemed obvious to me:
1) A customer who never before patronized my shop might come back for more and perhaps become a regular. Or, if I knew that the wine was available at the Food Lion across the street, I would tell them so. (Remember the mother in Miracle on 34th Street who couldn't get over Macy's sending customers to Gimbels? "I've never done much shopping here before, but I'll tell you one thing—from now on I'm going to be a regular Macy's customer!")
2) In dozens of cases, those folks who ordered the $4 wine became over time not only regulars, but consumers drawn toward the $15 bottles as their palates and their wallets improved.
I am mystified that a smaller retailer, especially in the now cutthroat business of wine (with all the big box stores, the Trader Joe's and Total Wines snapping at their heels), would not bend over backward to help. I urge all my readers who cannot find what they are seeking—or whose retailer will not give it the old college try—to let these folks know that you will find somewhere else to shop. Occasionally a product may be sold out or temporarily unavailable, but if a retailer does not at least make an effort for you, then it's time to find someone who will.
I just turned the page of my local newspaper and came upon a wine advertisement. The first two wines I saw listed:
What's wrong with this picture? Would you even serve a bottle of Wrongo Dongo to anyone you considered a friend? I suppose the makers of these wines want "instant entry" into your memory bank, like 2 Buck (now 3 buck) Chuck did a decade ago.
A few days ago I received four bottles of wine each named "(oops)," the busy label downright ugly and crammed with small print words. It makes a long-winded attempt to inform consumers that vines planted in Chile, which were considered merlot for decades, are actually carmenere, a grape once part of the mix in top Bordeaux red blends.
I might show this bottle to friends, but only after they had tasted its contents and formed an opinion. Just as I hate bottle labels covered with flowers or cute animals, so I hate the over-informative, too much time on their hands drivel that wants to be serious and oh-so-trendy at the same time. The only reason I mention it at all is because two of the wines are delicious. The Carmenere-Merlot is dull, rubbery and odd. The Carmenere Rose is short, sharp and unpleasing. But consider trying the other two—and have a decanter at the ready in which to pour the contents. (Interestingly, one of the two good wines, after all that fuss about carmenere, is actually 84 percent cabernet franc!)
2005 (oops) Cabernet Franc/ Carmenere $10-12
Dark, deep woods aromas. A bit stark and one-dimensional, but what a nice dimension it is. Round, globular texture. Engulfing with a very long aftertaste and superior balance. Serve cool, about 60 degrees Farenheit (45 minutes in the refrigerator). 88
2005 (oops) Carmenere $10-12
Thrilling, exultant fruit. Dark, flowing and minerally. Medium bodied with starchy, stick to your gums fruit. Good balance and exotically luscious. 89
Whites of a Different Color
Some whites lay in shallow, accessible pools (chardonnay, sauvignon blanc); others buck the tide by being made from either the unfamiliar grape, the familiar grape grown on the wrong side of the ocean (such as California pinot grigio), or as an intriguing but unsuspected blend of Larry, Curly and Moe. Many are success stories and here are a few that just washed up:
2005 Solaz, Osborne, Blanco Viura $9
Fresh, "fruit bowl" nose with dominant pineapple. Lip smacking, citrusy, dusty dry and sharp. Awakens the taste buds—good aperitif. (Castilla, Spain) 85
2005 El Coto, Rioja Blanco $11
Perky, clean, fruit forward with lemon curd overtones. Soft, easy, medium bodied and so pleasant to drink. Its dryness will enhance filet of sole or flounder. 86
2005 Viognier, Incognito, Michael David Family of Wines $19
Well tempered, clean clementine-tinged aroma. Bright and grassy. Smooth, supple, easy going. Flexible with or without food. (Lodi) 86
2005 Pinot Gris, Kim Crawford $17
Soft, subtle melon and guava. Nicely balanced, slightly oily rich texture. Brisk and prickly—a bit short and blunt finish. Try with grilled poultry. (Marlborough, Australia) 86
2006 Traminer Riesling, Rosemount Estate $10
Light, deliberate, with a greenish grass nose. Soft on the palate with lingering sweetness throughout. Best without food as a porch sipper. (Australia) 86
2006 Dry Chenin Blanc, Dry Creek Vineyard $11.50
Brisk and steady with stone fruit, peach dominant nose. Clean, orderly and polished. A smooth textured, light-hearted wine for oysters or steamed fish. 87
2004 Pinot Blanc, Hugel, Cuvee Les Amours $15
Fruit forward, nectarine and floral notes. Long, sappy flavors with rich, dry low-snap refreshment. Nice alone or accompanying creamy soup, dip or fondue. 87
2004 Le Cigare Blanc, Bonny Doon $20
A cornucopia of fresh fruit aromas—winey, broad, full yet exhilarating. Smooth soft mouth texture. A generous plumpness with a touch of rasp on the finish. Could use a blackened fish or Mexican pork partner. (California roussanne and grenache blanc) 88
2005 Pinot Grigio, Benessere, Carneros $24
Fresh and fleshy with green melon backdrop. A full but edgy white. Nice interpretation of this often characterless grape. Try veal or lemon chicken as a match. (Napa Valley) 88
2005 Albarino, Vionta, Rias Baixas $18
Bright, sassy, citrusy, with slate-like minerality. A clean slap of bursting freshness and pizazz. A terrific, delicious shellfish wine. (Spain) 89
2005 Torrontes, Don David, Michel Torino $18
Luscious, inviting, richly textured fruit. Impressive, Condrieu-like depth and roundness. Beautiful sweet and sour combo. Mouth-filling joy and mouth-rinsing cleanliness. Dapper and dandy. Grown at 5,600 feet in the Cafayate Valley. (Argentina) 91 BEST WINE OF TASTING
Arturo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for comments, suggestions, kudos or complaints.